D E N I S * P O O L E
‘On For You’ by up and coming vocalist Douye from her debut album Journey. This outrageously infectious cut glides atop a deliciously languid mid tempo beat and is blessed by the playing of guitarist Jeff Prescetto who also lends a hand on background vocals.
‘Hold On Tight’ by Boney James from his brand new CD Send One Your Love. Moody and dappled with a subtle string arrangement this delicious track is contemporary jazz how it’s meant to be.
‘Sun Diego’ by guitarist Patrick Yandall from his soon to be released album A New Day. With sunshine dripping from every note, and a horn infused feel good factor that is off the scale, the smooth playing of this San Diego resident sums up the sumptuous vibe that is synonymous with the sun soaked locality he calls home.
‘Lucy The Cat’ by Paul Jackson Jr from his upcoming new release Lay It Back. Co-produced by Jackson and the always excellent Jeff Lorber, this stunning mid tempo cut is a standout in an album jam packed full with them.
Taken from the brand new DVD David Sanborn Live at Montreux 1984, the nostalgia filled ‘Hideaway’ is a startling reminder of the impact the legendary Sanborn has had on contemporary jazz over the past thirty years.
J E F F * D A N I E L S
Kenny Wright & Fresh Groove, Bottle of Wine (Knee-Deep Records) (1998)
Passport, Earthborn (Wounded Bird Records) (2001)
Passport, Man in the Mirror (Wounded Bird Records) (2001)
Club 1600 and Rex Rideout, Ridin' High (Encoded Music) (2002)
R O N A L D * J A C K S O N
Denny Jiosa, Dreams Like This (Sonic Canvas Records): This refined smooth jazz guitarist with a real “touch” puts forward a sterling effort with this stirring dose of smooth jazz, with a touch of straight-ahead thrown in for good measure.
Nate Harasim, Love's Taken Over (NuGroove Music): Harasim's fluid, buoyant style ebbs and flows as the mood calls for it, bouncing where that honky tonk-like bounce is the order of the moment, and waxing soft and melodic at other points in this fine production.
Eldredge Jackson, Listening Pleasure (JEA Records): Here’s a young saxophonist who embraces, caresses, massages, and gets the most from each and every passionate note that he belts out, combining flawless scale work and that soulful touch that just cannot be taught to mold what surely deserves to be among the top-tier productions in smooth jazz today.
Mars Lasar, At the End of the Day (Sound Manipulations): I hear an interesting blend of Hardcastle and Paolo Rustichelli styles that make for a truly enriching listening experience, complete with rousing melodies. Look for my full review of this artist and album shortly!
David Boswell, I Like That (My Quiet Moon Records): A hot blend of serious fusion with a style combining the likes of Mike Stern, The Yellowjackets, and Pat Metheny. Look for the full review of this one shortly, as well.
P E T E R * B O E H I
Masato Honda - Across The Groove (2008)
Japanese saxophonist Masato Honda is an original member of the fusion supergroup T-Square, on this release from 2008 he teams up with most of Fourplay (Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason) plus guitarist Mike Miller to deliver a great contemporary jazz album on the highest level. Stunning!
Boney James - Send One Your Love (2009)
Another incredibly smooth and sensual album by saxophonist Boney James hitting all the right buttons with its sultry playing and laidback grooves. I just can't get enough of this artist! Smooth jazz bliss!
Jeff Kashiwa - Back In The Day (2009)
Brand new release by saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa - who won a large fan base as member of the Rippingtons and the Sax Pack - delivers an album full of catchy tracks, superior playing and contemporary grooves. It doesn't get much better than this!
Cecil Ramirez - Talk To The Hand (2008)
Keyboardist Cecil Ramirez is a smooth jazz pianist located in California, this is an outstanding CD full of memorable tracks and great playing, very much in the vein of Brian Culbertson, so you should definitely check him out!
Masaru Imada - Tropical Sunset (1981)
As usual I would like to point out a great LP from the past. Japanese pianist Masaru Imada deliviered this fusion gem in 1981, featuring players like the Breckers Brothers, Grover Washington Jr., Steve Khan and others. Well worth to go back to!
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Various Artists, Hot Buttered Jazz: Celebrating the Music of Isaac Hayes (Shanachie)
Patrick Yandall, A New Day (Patrick Yandall)
Vail Johnson, Come Together (Swede Song)
Jeff Kashiwa, Back in the Day (Shanachie)
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Almost six years have elapsed since Paul Jackson Jr. released the album Still Small Voice. It included his cover of the Motown classic, ‘It’s A Shame’ that enjoyed an extended spell as most played on contemporary jazz radio and although since then his guitar skills have become an integral part of television shows such as American Idol, America’s Got Talent and the Grammy Awards he is now firmly back in the spotlight with his brand new CD Lay It Back.
For Jackson Jr, the project is a culmination of eighteen months serious work. Not only has he produced or co-produced all fourteen songs but has also written (or co-written) ten of the them, added three superb covers and included the spine tingling ‘Fourteen Til’ that was written by keyboard player (and fellow American Idol band member) Dave Delhomme. With a stellar line-up of supporting performers that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary jazz, the ingredients are all there for something very special. Indeed, from the first note of the opening track, the feisty ‘The Workout’, which he co-produces with Jeff Lorber, this is exactly what Jackson Jr delivers.
Rex Rideout lends a hand in co-writing and producing the sultry ‘Hind’s Feet’ and the title tune, co-produced by Euge Groove’s former bass player Cornelius Mims, proves to be the perfect showcase for Jackson Jr’s jazzy playing. Equally compelling, and with a splash of Latin sunshine, ‘2 For 10,000’ features the excellent Bobby Lyle on acoustic piano and Lyle sticks around to play a part in the delightfully turned down ‘Ballad For Uncle Ronnie’. It’s a number which quite simply is beauty personified and as Jackson Jr notches up the tempo for ‘Bay Shore Drive’ it gives him the chance (if one was indeed needed) to demonstrate he can do wonderfully tight smooth jazz as well as anyone today.
‘Swing It’ is funky in a ‘full-on’ Bootsy Collins kind of a way while in complete contrast, and as a demonstration of his versatility, the tranquil ‘To Be Like Him’ has a genuine Earl Klugh feel to it. Blessed by Patrice Rushen who adds her star quality on piano this magical cut is further enhanced by Alex Al on bass and an ultra-sophisticated horn arrangement from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Ray Brown. Jackson Jr calls upon his son Paul Jackson III for the neat spoken intro to ‘Hit It’ which in turn enables them to serve up a terrific slice of atmospheric urban jazz whilst when he at last looks to the archives, Jackson Jr unearths ‘Can This Be Real’ that was a minor hit for The Natural Four in 1974. With vocals in the capable care of James Reese, and American Idol band members Herman Jackson and Teddy Campbell on keyboards and drums respectively, this welcome re-imagining of a quiet storm classic is in the good company of his take on the Lionel Ritchie blockbuster ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning’. Co-produced by the always outstanding Jeff Carruthers it’s a song that fits Jackson Jr’s playing style to perfection and, in every respect, is a complete gem. Staying with the covers, although Jackson Jr adopts an initially restrained approach to his well crafted version of the Stevie Wonder hit ‘Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing’, it’s the fulsome horn backing that really brings the tune home. In fact Jackson Jr makes generous use of horns throughout and this is particularly so with another Jeff Lorber co-produced track ‘Lucy The Cat’. The powerful yet understated brass section underpins the entire piece and makes it a real Secret Garden favourite
With six albums previously released by Atlantic and Blue Note Records, Jackson Jr. is excited about refocusing on his solo career with his own family-run label Branch Records. The title cut has already been released to radio and is sure to rekindle the smooth jazz stardom that Jackson Jr. has long enjoyed. Due to hit record stores across the USA on March 17 Lay It Back comes highly recommended.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
When you possess awe-inspiring instrumental and vocal talent, then combine that with a 20-year “side job” as a Berklee College of Music teacher, and you’ve achieved name recognition that’s also associated with someone who is easily deemed a constant “hitmaker,” life has to look pretty sweet! Walter Beasley laid claim to all of this ages ago, yet, as if he’s some new kid on the block who has to prove something, he approaches this latest production, Free Your Mind, with the deep passion that again finds him pouring everything he has into the project. This spectacular new album comes with a very cool and encouraging theme: In this time of overwhelming bad news and stress from economic and other vantage points, we need to just relax, enjoy a moment of release, and lose ourselves to a precious moment of peace and tranquility. It is remedial; it is therapeutic; it is needed.
Often working in concert here with renowned Pieces of a Dream keyboardist James Lloyd, who’s penned several of the classy tunes here, Beasley further cements his powerful name and talents in the collective mind and soul of smooth jazz. We are treated to some real treasures here in the snappy, funky opener, “Steady As She Goes,” (another implied bit of sound advice for our troubled times, by the way), a dazzling display of his vocal skills on smooth artist Kem’s “Love Calls,” the swaying, melodically sound “Oh Yeah,” more rousing funk on “Shirlitta” (my fav here), and the casual, mellow title track (oh-so-aptly named!).
As if that weren’t enough, the cool saxman offers a series of moving tributes. There’s the hot, Latin-tinged tribute to master composer/keyboardist George Duke on “DukeZilla,” a suave tribute to President (then-contender at the time the tune was composed) Barack Obama ("Barack's Groove"), and a sweet, delicate melody called “Miss Minnie” for a dear, departed friend referred to by the artist as his “second mom.” All of this simply speaks to the humble and gracious nature of Beasley. I’m sure I’m joined by throngs of jazzers who too are humbled and extremely grateful for his dedication to providing us with his best effort each and every time he sets his mood to music. Thanks are definitely in order!
Anyone who’s followed the smooth/contemporary jazz genre for any considerable amount of time has become dearly familiar with the Philly duo, Pieces of a Dream, who’ve withstood the test of time (practically 3 decades together!) with grace, elegance, and an equal dose of good ol’ feel-good funk. In addition to providing some of the most memorable rhythms and melodies ever captured in smooth jazz, keyboardist James Lloyd and drummer Curtis Harmon have been mainstays in writing and producing for as long as I can recall, often unselfishly offering their talents to other heavyweights in the business. Their latest venture, Soul Intent, is a commentary on maintaining some old-school values that, in my opinion, should always go into making a quality album, like the gathering of all principal musicians in the studio simultaneously rather than relying on technology to bring the groove together.
I see that this “back to basics” approach is appealing to a growing number of other artists in the industry now, and it’s pretty clear as to why that’s the case. There’s a lot to be said for the energy, the vibe, that intangible “something” that’s thrown into the mix and makes everything just come together so perfectly in a groove-rich blend. Maybe it’s the look on a band member’s face at a given point in the tune or tunes; maybe it’s just simply that irreplaceable chemistry from vibin’ off another’s vibe. Whatever it is, Pieces of a Dream has tapped it and molded it to perfection as evidenced on this latest project.
This latest gem opens with “Sway On,” a classy, up-tempo jam graced with another of Lloyd’s tell-tale magnetic hooks and further enhanced by the sharp and delightful sax work of Tony Watson, Jr., who provides us with many more sweet runs on this album. That tune’s followed by the very satisfying “Vision Accomplished,” jointly written by Lloyd and Harmon. It’s a tune reminiscent of the group’s earlier days and, as Harmon, states “really captured the true Pieces of a Dream flavor.”
This undisturbed thread of Pieces of a Dream’s trademark excellence runs throughout the project (examples would be the mega-funky “Apb,” the lively “Step On It,” and the snappy, sassy “Things Are Looking Up”), never leaving one flat or unfulfilled. Besides Tony Watson, Jr., other contributors to this album include guitarists Rohn Lawrence and Randy Bowland, bassists David Dyson and Bennie Sims, and saxman Eddie Baccus, Jr. Plenty to love here, and boy, does the imagery of everyone actually jamming together in the studio work for this old-schooler! Another must-have from Philly’s smooth jazz dynamic duo.
This debut solo album by keyboardist/pianist Vance Taylor is of the stuff major infernos are made. This extremely well-produced project is simply hot, hot, hot, and totally laced with heavy, heavy, funk. After one listen, smooth jazzers everywhere will mutter “Where has this guy been hiding?” Well, he’s certainly no newcomer, as he’s played in the shadows for such artists as Cece Winans, Candi Staton, George Howard, and Toni Braxton, to name a few. Also, for those of you who’ve managed to keep up with stars who’ve earned a “home” on your “Memory Lane,” Taylor has been a member of Maze featuring Frank Beverly for the past 5 years. Now, he comes forth to stand in the broad and bright sunlight of public view and dares to mesmerize with some of the boldest music I’ve heard to date on Long Overdue. Here are refreshing, new, and innovative compositions so rich in flavor that repetitive play is absolutely necessary to get one to the point where he or she can stop dancing and grooving long enough to simply wonder why this much great material has not emerged before now. No matter. It’s here now.
I’ve been fortunate enough lately to have heard a lot of premium smooth jazz, and Vance Taylor belongs to that elite group without any doubt. With a style and funkiness similar to keyboard wiz and former Tower of Power member, Roger Smith, Taylor is guaranteed to set any stage ablaze with nothing more than his marvelous material—no theatrics needed. As I’ve found myself saying over and over lately about some of these splendid productions I’ve heard, I challenge listeners to find one weak cut in this masterful batch of tunes. If you find one, please write to me and let me know which one and why. There! That’s my dare for the month!
For the lover of artsy, dazzling tunesmithing, Taylor brings all you could possibly need and then some. The album opens with a very fine version of the classic Stylistics piece, “People Make the World Go ‘Round” and offers one other tune not penned by Taylor (“Dirty Old Man”), then muscles through a set of bright originals worthy of much airplay anywhere.
Taylor’s accompaniment is strong and serves as an amazing complement to these tunes. There are some very worthy and funky bass lines laid down by Jeff Smith and drums and percussion contributions from Marcus Williams, George “Spike” Nealy, and Stacey "Quick" Ellis. The crisp horn arrangements are actually provided by Taylor himself on synths, except for the classy sax work by Larry Jackson.
The hooks are incredibly clever and original, as evidenced by “See You in the Morning” and—what else?—“Off Da Hook.” All in all, Taylor’s stroll into the open sunlight was well worth waiting for. Find this gem at www.cdbaby.com and grab yourself a slice of smooth jazz at its most appetizing. I’m sure you’ll agree: Taylor’s emergence is truly long overdue.
I have to admit to a certain bias here, as I personally think that Patrick Yandall is one of the most polished and accomplished guitarists around (and I speak from the vantage point of one guitarist to another, although I’m sure we’re miles apart in terms of overall ability and talent!). He wears smooth jazz like a well-fitting suit, and his clear, distinctly melodic sound clearly supports that view. As for his writing talents, we’re talking solid pieces, well interwoven into the very fabric of his music. A New Day, his latest, whose scheduled release date is April 3, bears all the markings of yet another aural treasure.
A New Day is simply loaded with shiny excitement right from the very start. The 1st and title track is most aptly named, as it’s just right for starting a new day: Sunny, driving, and with purpose and direction. That’s followed by the rocking, rhythmic “Urban Flight,” a tune definitely designed for getting on your dance groove. Anyone who can sit through “Pistons Stomp” without giving in to—or at least fighting--the urge to get up and get the party started has to be made of some immobile solid substance, like a brick wall! Other tracks that follow are notably characteristic of this prolific author of 10 superb releases, each bearing its own signature.
It’s perfectly alright, and has become acceptable to most jazzers, if an artist should opt to revisit in some clever way sounds or tunes from his or her earlier releases (and many have even embarked on a couple of CDs comprised largely of covers). However, what appeals to me most about Yandall is his ability to create something perfectly separate from previous work while staying rooted in a style that has defined him. His material is almost always fresh with new and exhilarating melodies, and one finds oneself anxiously awaiting the next tune or album because of this remarkable ability. Now, on A New Day, he approaches different styles that still suit his personal style. There are selections that may remind you of Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Isley Brothers, Larry Carlton, Carlos Santana, Fattburger, and various forms of funk—in fact, there are specific tributes to a few of these greats here. In the end, however, this is Patrick Yandall, in all his glory, recognizing those superb and different styles in his own very special way.
If you’re like me, you like your smooth jazz with motion, definition, and something that stirs the soul as well as tantalizes the ear. Something slightly different from the last album you heard (by any artist)-- but not unidentifiably different--doesn’t hurt, either, right? Well, that’s what you get when you listen to Yandall. Here’s another album without a single throw-away track, in my opinion. I don’t know of very many albums about which I can say that easily, although there have been a notable few lately. At any rate, remember the release date for this one. You can thank me later.
CBS Radio Smooth Jazz KTWV/Los Angeles is working with popular sax player Kenny G on a new online radio station, WKGRS. That stands for "Kenny G's Radio Station," and it will be available via CBS Radio's streaming platform, on AOL and Yahoo's LaunchCast, on iPhone and some BlackBerrys, and at www.kennyg.com.
The stream will offer music from SJ core artists like Sade, David Sanborn, Chris Botti, John Legend, and, of course, Kenny G, who'll also host the channel, with anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories.
CBS Radio and KTWV VP/Smooth Jazz Programming Paul Goldstein said, "Kenny G is one of the most celebrated names in pop culture, so to partner with the entertainer who is the essence of the popular smooth jazz format is a perfect fit for our brand. Kenny has insight into the format like no one else I know, plus he has an easygoing on-air style that connects instantly with listeners. There is a longstanding synergy between musicians and radio, and by having these two vital elements come together in one online entity audiences with be treated to an incredible listening experience."
Up Close & Personal, the decidedly funky, brawny new smooth jazz project by guitarist Nils with an emphasis on some very nicely played blues, is another fine production by the artist and just shows that his consistently high standards and insistence on quality continue. This upcoming gem by one of smooth jazz’s finest guitarists has nary a mediocre track, and each tune stands on its own as a high-end individual composition not at all borrowing from or piggybacking on another in the collection.
Track 1, “Soul mates,” is a lazy, sweet, and soulful R&B cut trumpeting the values of being “soul mates” with nothing more by way of lyrics than a chorus of “We are soul mates, baby,” but you definitely get it. The title track and track 3, “Jazz Cruise,” (featuring British sax man Shilts of Down to the Bone fame) are both undeniably snappy and very “Nils” with crisp guitar riffs and solidly melodic chords. Shilts’ sax, of course, adds that soulful brightness for which he is so well known. “Europa,” with all the elegance and romanticism that Santana and Tom Coster captured so aptly years ago in that now-classic piece, is done to the nines here by Nils. Another funky mover—and perhaps my fav, though tough to say which is actually my fav-- is the curiously titled “60 10 29.” I’ve no clue as to what that means, but it just adds to the appeal of the funky blues it lays down, as does the very bluesy “Until I See You Again,” which immediately follows with a ton of class.
The quality just goes on and on from here, with tracks like “East Bay” and “Getting Hooked” strutting out sharp, spiffy, and jazzy hooks that never seem to stray very far from the funk and blues that clearly identify this magnificent piece of work.
Nils fans will not be disappointed with this project in the least, and those unfamiliar with this talent extraordinaire will quickly see why those fans are so dedicated. They simply know top-shelf excellence when they hear it. Up Close and Personal is expected to hit stores nationwide on March 17. Trust me: You want this one.
If you like prolific artists, how about an artist who manages to crank out an album or two each year with each being uniquely special in its composition one way or another? Such is the case with Mars Lasar who’s released over 20 albums and has a rather extensive resume of productions, arrangements, and other credits. We’re talking about affiliations with everyone from Seal to Herbie Hancock to Aerosmith! That’s about as eclectic and diverse as one can get, wouldn’t you say? This experience doesn’t go untapped with At the End of the Day, a project that, upon hearing, I was driven to review.
With an oft-common thread with the fresh silk of Paul Hardcastle, Lasar shows here on At the End of the Day, with the help of accomplished saxophonist Greg Vail (who adds a really nice touch), that he’s as comfortable with the vibe of smooth jazz and wears its grooves as well as he would with any element of new age (which still maintains a presence here), electronica or any of the other genres he’s noted for exploring and conquering. When I think about his previous themes of preserving our planet and resources, protecting our parks, etc., this project--though mostly created in a smooth jazz setting--is not so far removed from those earlier themes of environmental appreciation, with tunes like “A Drive Through Vineyards,” “City Skyline,” and “Sweet Summer Haze.”
The music here is addictively soothing and unimposing, yet boasts a heavy presence in the room just through its moving, lush melodies and smart, well-conceived hooks. In many cases, an album will put forth an up-tempo, driving piece as its opener to get the listener’s attention. To demonstrate Lasar’s confidence in his ability to capture a listener regardless of the type of tune that sets off his album, this album begins with a slow, hauntingly mellow little ditty called “Warm Nights.” It may not be the pacesetter for the entire album (just listen to the aforementioned “A Drive Through Vineyards,” as well as “Good Times” and “Uptown,” and you’ll get my point), but it’s certainly capable of influencing one to have a seat and give a good, hard listen to the fluid sweetness of the whole production. That fluidity strolls through each track seamlessly. The diversity here is quite satisfying and complete. For example, in addition to tunes I’ve already mentioned here, there’s “Come and Join Us,” which brings to mind the slinky, kinda bluesy cuts like Rick Braun’s “Cadillac Slim.”
Overall, just listen, and you’ll agree at the end of the day that Mars Lasar has a bonafide winner.
Police have recovered one of the three guitars that were recently stolen from Smooth Jazz musician and “American Idol” band guitarist Paul Jackson Jr.'s car. It turns out it is the Paul Reed Smith single-cut hollow body, which is pictured on the back on Paul’s upcoming CD Lay It Back, which is due March 17.
Jackson is offering a reward on all three of the guitars, but at this time he is gathering information on how the one missing guitar was recovered. Thieves originally stole the guitars by smashing the window of Jackson's car in his Los Angeles-area neighborhood.
Smooth jazz musician and American Idol band guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. is offering a substantial reward for the safe return of three of his favorite guitars. Thieves stole the guitars by smashing the window of Jackson’s car parked outside his Los Angeles-area neighborhood. He had just returned home about two in the morning after a gig, was exhausted, and never thought his car would be burglarized.
The reward will be offered for any of the guitars, which have great sentimental and monetary value. One of them, a Paul Reed Smith single-cut hollow body, is the one pictured on the back on Jackson’s upcoming CD Lay It Back, which is due March 17.
To take a look at the guitars or to e-mail Jackson with any suggestions on how to get his guitars back, go to pauljacksonjr.com.
Here’s a brow-raising meld of jazz styles that clearly spells fusion in a most interesting manner. In some places resembling the stylings of Craig Chaquico and rocker Neil Schon (on the couple of fusion projects that Schon produced, that is), I Like That, is also very close to the tight fusion triumphs of the Mike Sterns and Yellowjackets of the world (Jimmy Haslip sits in here, as well, btw). David Boswell has a good grip on, as he deems it, “coloring outside the lines.” Crisp, skilled, and well composed pieces easily elevate this offering as one to be taken seriously. Having studied under the likes of Pat Metheny, you’ll have no trouble identifying the innovativeness of his music.
There are enough intricacies to easily impress and convince the true “at the edge” fusion fan (the melodies and riffs can get a bit complex and involved), but the “meat & potatoes” smooth jazzer who prefers to keep it simple and close to the ground should find some satisfaction in this finely tuned production, as well. Boswell’s nifty hooks (check out “It’s Possible” and “Did I Tell You” for great examples) will appeal to anyone who truly appreciates good jazz, and Haslip’s expressive bass is, well, as usual, expressive. Nelson Rangell offers his tell-tale sax work, and it fits in here perfectly like that hard-to-find note in a five-part harmony vocal group.
This album possesses so many pieces that are just very there. To put it another way, I Like That is like one long but entertaining story told without a lot of words but with all the expression in the world needed to get the point across. That story is nowhere better represented than on cuts like “Shake and Bake” a potpourri of sound, and the very electric title track (both the opener and the “radio edit” versions—but especially the latter!). All in all, the mood, the aura, and the phrasing all place this piece of work in that special category with many of the great fusion pieces.
Not to be confused with conventional smooth jazz as many of us know it, I Like That carries its own smoothness and character with it. While some may choose to pass on it, many more will love its daring and its pure freshness. It’s got clear definition and direction, and I like that.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. There seems little doubt that writer, producer and keyboard player Oli Silk is fixed firmly on a fast track to contemporary jazz success. He was first noticed at Trippin N Rhythm in 2004 as the producer of the self titled album by British sax player James Vargas and his own 2006 solo debut on the same label, So Many Ways, proved to be an instant success. All the more remarkable for the fact that Silk is UK born and based, it garnered the massive radio hit ‘Easy Does It’ that hung around for more than six months on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio across the USA. Now he is back with his brand new release The Limit’s The Sky and, with stellar backing from sax-men Garry Honor and Jaared, legendary bass player Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith and guitarist Matt Park, he clearly has another winner on his hands.
The funky tight and rhythmic title cut features the excellent Jaared and is replete with Silk’s distinctive production touches. In fact Jaared can be heard on four of the ten choice tunes and is back to lend a hand for ‘S.O.S.O.S!’ With Silk on piano very much in Brian Simpson mode, and Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith his usual colossal self; this smoothly jazzy number checks all the right boxes. ‘That Kinda Love’ proves to be a stunning slice of cool urban jazz for which Donnell Spencer on lead vocals is outstanding and wonderfully backed by Shannelle Solomon and Donnell Spencer Jr. Silk retains a decidedly chilled out disposition for the appropriately titled ‘De-Stress Signal’. A tune to calm the most savage of moods it provides another opportunity for Jaared to shine and his final contribution helps lift the melodic yet jazz infused ‘Lime Cordial Soup’ to another place.
The only track not written or co-written by Silk is the sensational Jeff Lorber composition ‘Seventh Heaven’. As catchy as they come, this one is seriously addictive and although ‘Get It Together’ is groovily whimsical it’s the minimalist vocals of Silk and Kathryn Page that add a wow factor to ‘This Was Then, That Is Now’. A track which is funky in an electronica sort of a way it features a rocking guitar solo from Matt Park that is right on the money. Clearly one of the album's standout cuts, the tune is matched every step of the way by ‘Chill Or Be Chilled’ where Silk’s mellifluous playing is front back and centre. With a splash of mellow sax from Gary Honor and more great bass from Smith this is an absolute real gem. However, that said, a real Secret Garden favourite is the wonderful ‘Solarity’. Honor (who originally caught the eye when winning an onboard talent contest as part of the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise) again makes a telling contribution and Silk’s chilled out playing is out of this world.
The Limit’s The Sky is a breathtaking collection and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.olisilk.com
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
Two members of Grammy Award-winner Chuck Mangione’s band have been identified as among those killed Feb. 12 on the plane that crashed into a Buffalo, New York, house. Publicist Sanford Brokaw identifies the band members as Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett. In a statement Mangione, best known for his smash hit "Feels So Good,” said that he was “in shock over the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy."
Niewood, a flutist and saxophonist, has appeared on albums by Grover Washington Jr., Bob James, Jason Miles and Patti Austin. In 2004, he released a CD titled Facets on the smooth jazz label Native Language. Niewood was also the first saxophonist for the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra.
"I am in a state of shock," said Miles. "I knew Gerry since 1974. He was one the nicest, mellowest guys you will ever meet. Gerry was really, along with Grover, one of the first guys who really played contemporary jazz."
Guitarist Mellett, who has performed with many top stars, was called on to replace smooth jazz guitarist Grant Geissman as Mangione’s band guitarist. Mangione and his band were scheduled to perform Feb. 22 in Wickenburg, Ariz.
Fly Away is a labor of love that celebrates the art of one of the most talented musicians ever to appear on the pop scene -- David Foster. Tomi Malm is the arranger and producer extraordinaire who reinvented a number of classics from Foster’s amazing songbook. Malm’s inventive and original takes are brought to life by a cast of superior musicians and singers.
The album kicks off with an intense orchestral intro written by Malm that segues into “In The Stone”. This powerful cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic is respectful to the original yet presents new, exciting elements. The legendary Bill Champlin’s unmistakable voice adds some soul to this funky jam while being supported by the smoking Danish All Star Horns and a rhythm section including John “JR” Robinson on drums, Nathan East on bass and Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar. “JR”, the man behind countless Foster and Quincy Jones productions, is the rhythmic force behind several tracks on the album, joined by some of the best bass players in the biz including East, Abe Laboriel and Neil Stubenhaus.
Next, Malm slows down the atmosphere with “No Explanation”. Originally performed by Peter Cetera for the Pretty Woman soundtrack, Foster co-wrote this ballad with singer/songwriter Bill LaBounty. What a treat to listen to LaBounty’s take on his own song. The acoustic setting is perfect for LaBounty’s evocative singing, supported by the wonderful harmonica of Tollak Ollestad. The result is pure bliss.
Boz Scaggs and Foster co-wrote some of the best pop music of the last 30 years. Two great examples are the pop/soul ditty “Jojo” and the sweet ballad “Look What You’ve Done To Me”. Here, “Jojo” is performed by the great Arnold McCuller of James Taylor fame. This track oozes class from beginning to end with soulful vocals, a pulsing rhythm section and refined horns. The icing on this smooth cake is the elegant flugelhorn solo by Jan Glaesel.
In the past, David Foster has said “Look What You’ve Done To Me” is one of his best songs ever. For this reason, when Contante & Sonante respectfully approached him to play on this record he was asked to add his magic to this particular song. Cecily Gardner’s voice caresses the listener on this jazzy take with support from Foster’s acoustic piano. Ramon Stagnaro’s guitar and Brandon Fields' warm saxophone are fantastic additions to another winner on this album.
Foster has often been called the “King of Ballads” and “The Colour Of My Love” helped define that distinction. Malm’s brilliant arrangement reinvented the song which is performed by the amazing Frank Adahl. The Swedish virtuoso infuses strength and soul into the song and truly brings it one step higher. There are echoes of EW&F in this rendition while the delicate piano intro was borrowed from another classic, “On Christmas Morning”, co-written by Foster with Kenny Loggins.
“Heart To Heart” is an evergreen written by Foster along with Loggins and Michael McDonald. This quality pop gem has been faithfully covered with singer/songwriter Jeff Pescetto on lead vocals. It’s an intricate chart with a beautiful melody that flows wonderfully with some great guitars courtesy of Paul Jackson Jr. and Dan Warner. Adding to the mix is an amazing saxophone solo from Brandon Fields.
The title track, “Fly Away”, is one of Foster’s lesser known masterpieces. Originally on Peter Allen’s masterpiece album Bi-Coastal, it is here given a jazzy/pop treatment, with some interesting time changes. Veteran singer/songwriter Robbie Dupree adds his own stamp to the song, giving the listener sweet echoes of the West Coast pop scene of the late seventies. The final result is embellished with wonderful horns and a great sax solo courtesy of Italian jazzman Fabrizio Mandolini. Let’s not overlook the great work on percussion here and on other tracks by session great Michito Sanchez.
One of the highlights of this tribute is Ole Borud’s amazing take on the Chaka Khan classic “Through The Fire.” Even Foster was impressed when he first listened to this version. Again, the new arrangement brings the famous song into another dimension. Borud’s vocals are amazing and the setting is modern and could easily become a radio hit. Michael Landau's and Dan Warner’s various guitars add even more fire to the tune.
When Contante & Sonante was making a wish list of possible special guests, two names immediately came up -- Jay Graydon and Jeremy Lubbock. Both performers are noted for their immense talent and special contributions to Foster’s career. Luckily, both agreed to appear on the album. Lubbock masterfully produced and arranged a haunting cover of “The Best Of Me”, a song he co-wrote with Foster and Richard Marx. Lisa Lovbrand, a very talented Swedish up-and-coming singer/actress, beautifully performed the song with Lubbock backing her up on the acoustic piano.
Graydon can be heard playing his trademark guitar on the Airplay classic “Nothing You Can Do About It”. This song is another showcase for Frank Adahl’s voice as well as The Danish All Star Horns. Adahl’s pyrotechnic singing puts his signature on the song, which is also enriched by refined piano and rhodes playing.
“Whatever We Imagine” was co-written by Jeremy Lubbock and Foster. Originally sung by James Ingram, this time around it is in the hands of world class singer Bill Cantos. Cantos’ voice caresses the tune to enhance its positive lyrics and meaning creating another acoustic pop masterpiece.
The collaboration between Chicago and David Foster was fundamental to both careers. Instead of selecting one hit from their successful albums produced by Foster, Contante & Sonante picked an unreleased track from Chicago 18, “When Will The World Be Like Lovers”. Here, Malm paints the rock side of Foster’s work. A carpet of terrific guitars played by Michael Landau and Porty backs up an all-star performance by many of the singers appearing on Fly Away. The powerful groove on this song is courtesy of the rhythm machine of John “JR” Robinson and Abe Laboriel.
Another extraordinary contribution from David Foster was the unreleased song “Live Each Day” that closes the album. This song has special meaning because it presents a never-heard-before vocal performance by the late Warren Wiebe. Contante & Sonante is in a way the home of Warren Wiebe’s memory, and “Live Each Day” really brings things full circle. This breathtaking ballad comes directly from Foster’s vaults and was recorded at Chartmaker in the nineties. Malm added a stripped-down arrangement with just a piano and some guitars to put the spotlight on Wiebe’s timeless singing. It’s the best way to end a magnificent tribute to an outstanding musician and human being, David Foster.
Update March 1st: Contante & Sonante is pleased to announce that pre-orders for Fly Away / The Songs of David Foster are now being accepted. Visit www.contanteysonante.com
One of saxophonist Kenny G's ideas for his next CD may raise a few eyebrows: a project of all Oscar-winning film scores. That idea was already realized in January 2007 when another smooth jazz saxophonist, Dave Koz, released At the Movies. Koz's CD spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart and featured guest vocalists and such Academy Award-winning songs as “The Pink Panther”, “West Side Story,” “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” “The Way We Were” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
Kenny, who is asking his fans their thoughts on the project through his new blog at kennyg.com, says he might also write one new song for a current film and include that on the project. If Kenny decides to do the CD of movie music, he’s just about set – he’s got the London Symphony Orchestra booked in April to record with him.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. A new recording from sax superstar Boney James invariably proves to be a highlight of the musical year and this is clearly destined to be the case with his brand new CD Send One Your Love. Released this week and in good time for that magical date of February 12, Boney, with four of his own compositions plus covers of some of the finest love songs ever written, has compiled what has been described as the ultimate ‘Musical Valentine’. In fact for James the idea of a concept album represents something of a departure. With the vast majority of his previous eleven albums the overall vibe has come after the fact, when all tracks have been laid down. His music has served to virtually define the genre of urban jazz but with Send One Your Love he has set out to create his own ‘make-out’ record, inspired in part by the soul music of the ‘70s.
The melody of the Stevie Wonder written title cut complements to perfection the romantic mood of the entire collection and much the same can be said of Boney’s take on the Barry White classic ‘I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby’. A stunning beat and James’ sensuous playing combine to make this one the natural center piece of any Valentines Night encounter and when Boney looks to one of his own sax heroes, John Klemmer, for the track ‘Touch’ he not surprisingly makes it entirely his own. Tender, sophisticated and heartfelt it is replete with the qualities that have defined James playing for the last seventeen years and the sexy swagger he injects into the seminal Brothers Johnson hit ‘I’ll Be Good to You’ gives the tune an altogether different complexion. Although Boney himself describes it as the Brothers Johnson meets Boz Scaggs, truth to tell the groove is entirely Boney James and this is also true of the timeless James Taylor number ‘I Don’t Want To Be Lonely Tonight’.
Boney envisaged the tune as being infused with a gritty R & B edge and wanted a young singer with star potential to handle the vocal. Enter Quinn who at the time was working as an Atlanta-based session singer. He was recommended to Boney who flew him to Los Angeles where together they cut the track in two takes. The first single to go to radio is ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)’ that was written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed and which was a huge hit for the Stylistics in 1971. It’s already riding high on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio and is a certainty to be amongst the top covers of 2009.
However, despite the magic of these timeless tunes it’s the Boney James originals that really grab the attention. Featuring Stefon Harris on vibraphone, and a beautiful guitar solo from Dean Parks, ‘City Of Light’ has a distinctly Parisian quality about it while ‘Butter’, which Boney co-writes with Mark Stephens is, quite simply, crammed full of the sexy, seductive tenor saxophone that James does so well. Even better is the hypnotically turned down ‘Wanna Show U Sumthin’ that benefits from the sparse yet effective vocals of Sue Ann Carwell but a real Secret Garden favorite is the sumptuous ‘Hold On Tight’. Moody and dappled with a subtle string arrangement this is contemporary jazz how it’s meant to be.
Out on Concord Records, Send One Your Love looks set to cement the reputation of Boney James as one of the most respected and best-selling instrumental artists of our time. It comes highly recommended.
For more go to www.boneyjames.com
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
I waited and waited for activity in January. And outside of Al Di Meola making an appearance in town at the Santa Fe Station, there was nothing.
It is the sign of the the economic times in a town that for the most part was insulated from recessions of past years, and basically rolling through most economic roller coaster rides and steadily growing in population. And now, Las Vegas hold a record 10% unemployment rate, and many are moving away.
And what's the first thing to get cut in an entertainment town? Entertainment. And forget jazz. Jazz does not even exist at a time like this. The hotels closed most of the lounge shows. And for the small part attributed to jazz ten years is all but a memory.
There have been traditional jazz hostings on select nights that have been stables for ongoing listeners, but nothing contemporary. The audiences were basically showing up for old standards and blues, but nothing cutting edge, let alone smooth.
There is a club called Pogos that was bringing in some university players for awhile, but the new owner changed so much of the club that even the forty year history of jazz on Friday nights may go away to make room for middle-aged country fogies who want to use the club as a casual "make out" joint. However, it's still jazz on Fridays, for the time being, even with all the pictures of jazz legends gone, and country and classic rock playing on the juke box on the band breaks.
So here is what we have in February. We have Skip Martin (Dazz Band, Kool & The Gang), a great vocalist who has that Miles Davis influence on trumpet, is performing on Tuesday nights at the Square Apple.
Otherwise, The Killer Groove Band is performing for the PBS fundraiser at the Las Vegas Hilton on Saturday, February 7th.
Concertwise, not even a single booking of a name act is scheduled for March.
.......but we'll keep waiting.
Here’s an R&B/smooth jazz group with vocal chops that are easily as competent and prominent as their instrumental skills. Based in sunny California, I understand that DW3 is a household name out there. Their 2007 release, Life, Love, & Music, is proof positive as to why they enjoy such notoriety.
I first learned of them on this year’s Smooth Jazz Cruise with Wayman Tisdale. They provided some of the fullest sound imaginable as they offered poolside and late night grooves for the smooth cruisers, as well as backing vocals for acts like bassist Marcus Miller. These guys proved to be the perfect party band, but with the serious depth and substance that generally pushes certain artists into the arena of the contemporary and R&B heavyweights. I would recommend that all serious music lovers watch the scene for the emergence of these guys on a national scale in very short order.
On this releasa, exotic numbers like “I Can’t Help It” and “Can’t Imagine” work wonders in conjuring up a nice unruffled island evening sipping on some smooth remedy for the blues, while the rhythmic but unfortunately short “Ordinary People” gets the feet moving in a coolly Latin direction. Their elegant soul sound clearly surfaces in tunes like “Share My World” and "Goodbye Love.”
As I’ve already stated, this is a production that will capture your attention as much for vocal aptitude as for the melodic compositions. Treat yourself to a taste of DW3. Look them up for yourself at MySpace and see if you don’t agree that this is a group deserving of riding the high tide to national fame.
Everette Harp is quite the busy man in the studio and on the road, and his prolific nature never ever takes any negative hits where quality production is concerned. While much has probably been written of his 2008 release, All For You, I want to take a special moment to recognize his 2007 effort, My Inspiration, for so many reasons. First, the album, not unlike many of his others, is a smokin’-hot example of the man’s intensity, smoothness, and ability to feel out a song while it’s probably still no more than a mere budding thought. Second, he is as beholden to his departed father as I am to mine, and I relate to the dedication of his album to the memory of his dad, of whom he obviously thinks the world. I cannot begin to tell you how such dedication appeals to people like me.
My Inspiration wastes no time blowing it out with the fiery, funky opening track, “Juke Joint,” and just steamrolls straight through to his heart-warming vocal tribute to his dad on the final and title track. Never at a loss for expression via his music, Harp has such a knack for striking that perfect note, literally, through the backdrop of nicely phrased passages and awesome scale work. His soulful, bluesy touch comes through loud and clear on such cuts as “In Time.” He plays and wears his intense sound so well, as is obvious on this rich production. The clarity, the fat bass lines, the gliding rhythms, and superbly structured melodies and chords are all unmistakably Harp.
Harp was one of the performers on this year’s Smooth Jazz Cruise with Wayman Tisdale, and, this being my very first time actually seeing the man perform (shame on me after so many years of being a smooth jazz fan!!), the searing magnificence of his sax and his effervescent presence floored me from the moment he strode on stage. Needless to say, when I realized what an insightful and reflective artist he is, as well, I counted myself among the very fortunate who were there that evening in the ship’s main entertainment lounge to bear witness to his consummate artistry. Oh, and this album? Continuing quality from a quality artist who apparently never allows his undeniably superior talent to outweigh his humility.
"There should be some type of bridge built between contemporary jazz lovers and fans of Hip-Hop and R&B music," says international jazz saxophonist Joe Johnson. Well, while I think that bridge has pretty much been defined now by the likes of Kim Waters, Mike Phillips, and Jeff Lorber (witness the Unwrapped and Streetwize projects), Johnson places his indelible signature on this hybrid sensation that has swept the smooth jazz world by storm. Let’s examine this smooth character from Memphis, Tennessee, and his soulful, charismatic style, shall we?
Johnson touts among his early musical influences Charlie Parker, Hank Crawford, David Sanborn, Grover Washington, and Kirk Whalum. A young man in his mid-thirties, he has amassed an impressive resume and list of musical accomplishments that include opening national concerts for or sharing the stage with such luminaries as Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Sade, Vanessa Williams, Gerald Levert, KEM, Roy Ayers, Boney James, and Phil Perry. Impressive.
His latest release, The Afterparty, is a swaying groove that combines sharp, tight alto sax work with other horns to create melodic, textured, and alluring rhythms and hooks. One tune of note involves his clever manipulation of Earth, Wind & Fire’s melody and bass line from “Can’t Hide Love” to create his own “Guess Who Loves You More.” That tune is so strikingly creative. The horn arrangements here and elsewhere on this project are boldly expressive, as if arranged by someone with a great deal of well-deserved self-confidence. Clearly, Johnson is someone who is more than justified in his self-confidence. Selections like “Doing It Right,” ”Slow Jam,” “Find Myself in You,” and “Free Yourself” are but a small sampling of the “feel” Johnson sought—and found--on this album.
Take a moment and stroll through this vibrant fabric of sound. You will undoubtedly want to stick around for awhile, close your eyes or bob your head when and where appropriate, and allow the colors to just cascade around you as this masterful saxophonist works his magic on your aural senses. Deep down, you’ll know that this is where you want to be. It’s where all smooth jazzers want to be when the alto sax (or any other instrument for that matter) is played with such command...
J E F F * D A N I E L S
Jeff Lorber, Heard That (Peak Records) (2008)
Pat Metheny, Water Colors (Polygram Records) (2000)
Pat Metheny & Anna Maria Jopek, Upojenie (Nonesuch) (2008)
Jamhunters, Music Speaks Louder Than Words (2008)
D E N I S * P O O L E
‘Sweet Lady’ by Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith from his solo CD Sittin In. Smith never ever disappoints and this slinky slice of sumptuous R & B shimmers with understated vocals from Derek Allen and Connie Law, wonderful sax by the superb Norbert Stachel and an unmistakable sample from Shuggie Otis’s seminal ‘Strawberry Letter 23’. One is left to ponder whether or not, if smooth jazz radio was playing more tracks like this would it really be in the trouble it is today?
‘Come What May’ by Najee from his 2007 album Rising Sun. Najee has, in his own jazzily smooth way, been making terrific music for over twenty years and this chilled out track is right up there with the best.
‘Chill Or Be Chilled’ by the UK’s own Oli Silk from his brand new release The Limit’s The Sky. Smooth jazz keyboard really doesn’t get better than this and Silk’s sensuous yet funky style marks him out as the natural successor to Brian Culbertson.
‘Window Of The Soul’ by Chuck Loeb. Originally from Loeb’s current album Presence it can also be found on the 2009 smooth jazz sampler from KIFN 98.1 San Diego and is an absolute joy.
‘Xmas In July’ by Luba Mason from her soon to be released Krazy Love. Made yet more memorable by the excellent guitar of Sandro Albert this tender track is another huge step on Mason’s journey into the world of sophisticated contemporary cross-over jazz.
P E T E R * B O E H I
Paul Jackson, Jr. - Lay It Back (2008)
This is the latest solo release by guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., independently released, but nevertheless providing some more great funky playing on the highest level and flawless production, featuring artists like Jeff Lorber and Bobby Lyle. Very recommended!
Fred Engler - Since Then 'Till Now (2008)
Composer/keyboardist Tom Engelr hails from Toronto, he went into the studio with some of the best local players and came up with this smooth jazz gem, saxophonist Andy Snitzer guests. Two thumbs up!
Jeff Hackworth - What A Wonderful World (1999)
Saxophonist Jeff Hackworth did this cooking organ-trio session in 1999, it features drums, hammond B3 and his soulful sax playing, I had a ball listening to these bluesy and funky numbers. A breath of fresh air!
Keith Marks - In It (2008)
Great funky flute sounds over a contemporary backdrop, with outstanding keyboard & piano solos by Ray Chew and a selection of classic material (like "Ain't Nobody" and "Ooh Child") make this one a winner. You will love it!
Bill Meyers & David Benoit - The Invitation From L.A. (1990)
Those two keyboardists and arrangers romp through a selection of hits of the day which is top notch due to the fact the very best of L.A.'s session players are part of this album. Hunt it down if you can!
Happy birthday to pianist and composer Joe Sample, who is celebrating his 70th birthday on Sunday, Feb. 1.
"I can’t remember any particular birthday that stands out," Sample says. "I know the big one that is coming up will stand out more than any of them. I will be 70. That’s a milestone. I cannot believe it. I do feel wonderful, but it’s like, 70? Are you kidding me?"
He was born Joseph Leslie Sample and raised in the Creole section of Houston, referred to as French Town. In 2002, Sample returned to Houston after residing in Northern California for 10 years.
Before his solo career was ignited, Sample was a longtime member of the Jazz Crusaders, and in 1971 they became known simply as The Crusaders. In 2003, Joe reunited with saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper for the first time in 33 years, releasing a new Crusaders album, Rural Renewal.
Meanwhile, Sample's latest project, No Regrets, will be released on March 24. It’s his second CD in a row with vocalist Randy Crawford, following the Grammy-nominated Feeling Good.